“I think we ought to live happily ever after.” Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
We would like to dedicate this post is to the memory of British fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, who died from complications with cancer today. The worlds she created and the fantasy she brought to our lives will be greatly missed. But they will also be remembered.
One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde
Release Date: March 8, 2011
Genre: Fiction, alternate history, fantasy
Summary: The real Thursday Next is missing, and it’s up to the fictional Thursday Next to find her, or at least imitate her for the good of the BookWorld. Striving to live up to her namesake with the help of her robotic butler, Thursday searches for herself in the RealWorld, and the newly improved BookWorld with ridiculous consequences.
The sixth book in the Thursday Next series brings the same level of humour, the same absurdity, and the same literary references that Fforde’s fans and bibliophiles world wide love.
For those not yet introduced to the Thursday Next series, it is set in alternate history England in a world which reveres literature so much that it has its own police force called SpecOps 27 to deal with literary related crimes (with SpecOps 29 focusing on Shakespeare). Its most famous agent, Thursday Next has the ability to jump directly into literature and interact with its characters, even having lived in BookWorld and seen first hands how books are created to be read in the RealWorld. This is all handled by Text Grand Central, the engine room of the BookWorld which allows books to travel to the reader’s imagination via a process called an imaginotransference system.
One of Our Thursdays is Missing stars the fictional Thursday Next, who is fictional both in the world the novel is set in and also in our own minds. The book breaks the fourth wall a lot, with the main character being a fictional character who knows she’s a fictional character in a fictional series about a fictional character (although for all purposes of the book, Thursday Next is real). It’s a lot to take in, and even readers such as ourselves have a hard time following the plot sometimes.
The book begins with the BookWorld being restructured from its original form as the Great Library (overseen by head librarian the Cheshire Cat) into Fictional Island, on which each genre has their own plot of land. For example fantasy, horror, crime, and fan fiction each have their own place in the Geographic BookWorld. Everything is governed by the Council of Genres and policed by Jurisfiction, whose headquarters are situated inside Sense and Sensibility.
This book is AWESOME. As of now I’d rate it 4 of 5 stars…but that might be higher if I was more emotionally invested in the series. Clearly I’m going to have to go back to the beginning even though Fforde does an excellent job of catching me up enough that I can understand what’s going on.
That being said – I have NO idea what is going on. At all. The writing is whimsical, yet somehow insanely complicated at the same time. I couldn’t even begin to keep track of how BookWorld works with all its moving parts and strange rules and such. Then I’m still confused about the RealWorld which is obviously not just our real world, but yet another world that Fforde has created to go along with the BookWorld. This may be just that I missed an explanation earlier on, I can’t say. However, despite being pretty constantly confused, I am also constantly entertained. I am perfectly willing to just accept whatever is happening and move right along with Thursday on her adventure – wherever she’s going to lead me.
The great thing about BookWorld is that while I have no idea what’s going on, I get the impression that Fforde knows EXACTLY what’s going on at all times and it blows my mind. I love that the stars of classic books are celebrities, that books that aren’t read a lot have characters with free time – who can do whatever they like while they wait for their readers, I love that there can be mishaps, that characters can screw up the books or readers can screw up the books. I like that the politics there are just as complicated and crazy as they are here. I like that you can just pick up a robotic butler just because – who doesn’t need one of those? I like that you can have a talking dodo or an affair with a goblin and that characters can quarrel or “play” themselves differently or write poetry while they’re not being a homicidal maniac in their stories.
The plot moves along pretty steadily and like with BookWorld, it’s not really always clear how things are related or what’s really important. However, because it takes place in BookWorld I think I can be fairly confident that everything that is happening is important in some way and will play out eventually and wrap up neatly at the end. I’m really sad I didn’t get a chance to finish the book because I can’t proclaim that the ending blew my mind or that I was entirely satisfied – I have no idea what’s going to happen at the end or even in the next chapter at this point. I am finding this book a very wild and interesting ride that I can’t wait to see through to the conclusion. At which point, I’m going to bring myself right back to the beginning.
Despite reading the previous Thursday Next novels, I never finished First Among Sequels. I was taking three English courses at the time, and my brain didn’t accept personal reading as relaxation time. It wanted mindless television shows and sleep. Also, from what I remember… Thursday was older in that novel. I didn’t relate to her as readily, as her concerns became more about her family. So I didn’t know how I was going to respond to this new installment. Happily, I loved it. It takes place almost entirely in the Bookworld, which is what made me fall in love with the series way back in high school. Fforde is just so damn clever – there are endless witty allusions to anything literary you can think of. From the classics to romance, it covers everything. It’s also hilarious – one passage mocks miserable memoirs that happen to be completely made-up (ahem, James Frey), to a scene in a mimefield which had me giggling madly. At one point, there’s a sign that points “This way to the denouement.” I need that at my house someday. Seriously, I am insanely jealous of how perfectly constructed this world is; it’s so brilliant and hilarious and META. God, I love meta things that aren’t pretentious bullshit.
I am allowed to give away something, right? Plot-wise, assuming we’ve all read it. Well, it’s not a big spoiler by any means. Thursday must go into the real world to discover more about the real Thursday’s whereabouts. Even though she is only there for 8 hours, and in those maybe 4 are actually character interaction, she starts to think she is the real Thursday. But up to that point, she had never doubted herself as being the written one. She keeps denying that she is real at first, and then she starts to wonder if she may be, as everyone else seems to think so. But I was rather annoyed by this, because she clearly knew she wasn’t. Even is she wanted to be, which she did. So she went from denial to self-denial over the course of a very short period. Which maybe was more about what makes us real… but I didn’t believe it. Ya know? It made me more irritated than philosophical. Small complaint in an otherwise compelling and interesting new take on the series.
The concept of the written Thursday being the main character was really refreshing. In a series that is concerned with how we create fictional characters, it’s easy to forget that Thursday herself has a fictional counterpart. After reading almost all of the books with the real Thursday, I thought it would be a difficult and/or annoying transition. But it was quite easy, and this can be contributed to Fforde’s writing. Written Thursday has her own problems – maybe Goliath (an evil mega-corporation in the real world) isn’t breathing down her neck – but she has to juggle the concerns of her other “castmates,” make sure her understudy doesn’t panic when too many people are reading, and other fictional concerns. The most interesting part is how she tries to find a balance between the emotions of a character based on a real person. Is written Thursday an autonomous being, or is she manipulated by the experiences of the real Thursday? It brings a depth to a character I thought might be a throw-away when I read the synopsis. Going back to my least favorite part… I think Fforde did such a nice job during the rest of the novel on talking about real versus written, that the real world part stuck out as being the least realistic in terms of the written character…. Ouch, my head hurts now. Oh – my absolute favorite bit is when Thursday is preparing to go to the Real World, and Professor Plum is trying to explain real humans, “Apparently the talk can be confusing – for the most part, people just say the first thing that comes into their heads.” Perfection. <3
I finished this book about two weeks ago and I’m still in love with the change the series has taken. This is the first time that the Thursday Next series has been narrated by anyone other than the RealWorld Thursday Next, and I for one think it offers a nice change of pace. For once we get to see what it’s like to be a fictional character, to be read, the desire to be loved, and to have the ability to alter the readers’ perceptions. The characters themselves are forced to “play” their roles while someone is reading their book(s), the only option for escape from readings is to hire an understudy. For example, someone can read Jane Eyre at one point and have the real Jane Eyre playing the part, or it can be her understudy. This in a way explains why you can read a novel at different points in your life and have the meaning be different or the feeling it gives you can change from the first reading. In the BookWorld this is brought on by the change in character rather the change in you as the reader.
Much as our RealWorld, the BookWorld too is in the throes of an economic crisis. They solve this problem in two ways. The first way is by sharing what they have. There are only 15 pianos in the BookWorld, which are juggled about from book to book depending on when scenes involving pianos are being read. In this same way, there are only three dodos, the dodo from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland doubling as Pickwick in the Thursday Next books. The second way is by remaindering books that are no longer read. The book is broken up into parts, the characters leave to join new series or become understudies, and the words are broken up and returned to the Text Sea. I enjoy the way that the BookWorld perpetually mirrors our own world, and not only in the ways that the genre borders alter based on being what is read at the moment (i.e. there are a lot of references to urban vampires).
What really makes the book stand apart though is all the amazing literary references that Fforde peppers throughout. One of the images that made me laugh the most was an event called the Running of the Bumbles, in which 24 screaming Mr. Bumbles are let loose in a chapter of Oliver Twist screaming, “More? More?!?”. We also come to learn that taxis in the BookWorld fly solely so they don’t create a movie version of I, Robot in the RealWorld. Sadly, as we know, that didn’t work. The other novels feature Hamlet and Mrs. Havisham among others, and this book introduces one of my favorites from poetry, the Lady of Shallot. I just wish we had seen more of her. When we first are introduced to Tennyson’s tragic figure, she is watching issues of Baywatch on her mirror and weaving tapestries of David Hasselhoff, because I suppose making tapestries of Sir Lancelot for all time can get tiring. She also introduces us to the Reader Feedback Loop, in which readers thoughts and opinions affect things in the BookWorld. Despite what she may have once looked like, the Lady of Shallot is now destined to look like every blonde beauty she was made into by reader feedback. As Fforde informs us, this loop is not always a good thing, owing to the fact that, “Harry Potter was seriously pissed off that he’d have to spend the rest of his life looking like Daniel Radcliffe”.
WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-The mass amounts of literary references (i.e. Vronsky once performed ALL the parts in Anna Karenina)
-The characters, specifically all the well known literary figures
-Having a different, “fictional” narrator versus a “real” one
-Every bit of the wild, amusing ride that had us laughing out-loud on our lunch breaks
WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-The at times confusing plot that only Fforde seems to easily navigate
-Thursday Next’s foray into not knowing who she is (backtrack to ridiculous mind-worm plot)
Join us next month when we review our April Bibliomantic Book Club Book: City of Fallen Angels by Cassandra Clare.